Keep It Simple, Stupid
Spring is the busiest time of the legislative year with almost every state in session, and this year is busy looking at marijuana. At least eight states are looking at medical marijuana bills and almost as many face decriminalization or legalization laws.
What all of these various laws have in common, and in common with most of those already enacted, is that they are detailed and complex. Most of them try to anticipate and prevent any future problems that have been conceived. A sponsor of one pending medical marijuana law even bragged that his bill was comprehensive; it was thirty-four pages long!
I want to make a suggestion that runs counter to these current attempts. In the words of the old folk wisdom, Keep it simple, Stupid. Always keep the primary goal in mind. What is the primary goal of these laws? It is to remove legal bars to the possession and distribution of marijuana. If that is the goal, just go ahead and do it (an alternate title to this essay) and forget about the refinements. With that advice, I offer a suggested text for such a law (disclaimer: I am part of a committee drafting a proposed medical marijuana statute for Texas. It is over thirty pages long, but I support it anyway.) The following is my proposed state marijuana statute:
A Bill Removing Penalties for Possession
or Transfer of Marijuana
or Transfer of Marijuana
All current statutes or regulations imposing criminal penalties on the possession by or transfer to any person over the age of eighteen of marijuana in any form is hereby repealed.
Thirty words is all it takes to do the whole thing. No separate medical marijuana statute is needed since patients could purchase just like anyone else, and sellers could specialize in medical applications if they desired.
Other statutes would remain in place covering sales to minors and driving under the influence. Local government would still have zoning authority to protect schools and residential areas, just as they do for other commercial activities. Even taxes will begin to take care of themselves. In most jurisdictions, general sales taxes would immediately apply to marijuana, and other taxes could then be created in response to whatever market develops.
Licenses, quantity limits, and other measurers to limit criminal activities and organizations are also unnecessary. Remember, Alcohol Prohibition created Al Capone; it did not put him out of business. When Repeal allowed legal brewers to compete, Budweiser’s better business methods and lower costs drove the mobs from the alcohol market. Legal marijuana growers would have the same effect on the Cartels and street gangs. After all, when the illicit glamour is removed, marijuana is just another agricultural commodity. It costs no more to grow, process, and sell than does coffee, tea, or broccoli. When did any of those commodities cost as much as a dollar an ounce? Do tomato growers have to booby-trap their greenhouses or hire armed guards? Do farmers’ markets suffer armed heists? When was the last time a truckload of potatoes was hijacked? Even today, practically the only armed intruders that Emerald Triangle growers have to fear are those sporting DEA badges.
The only useful feature of the “safeguards” put into proposed marijuana statutes is to counter the fears of those alarmed by a half-century of Drug War propaganda or who draw unwarranted parallels between reasonably safe marijuana and unreasonably dangerous alcohol. Those fears can be better met with good educational efforts.
On the other hand, the cost of these unnecessary precautions is excessive. They create dissention among marijuana proponents. Several well-intentioned campaigns have already been waylaid by squabbles between pro-reform groups unable to agree on how those reform efforts should be limited.
Will marijuana legalization create problems? Of course it will: simply walking out of ones front door each morning will bring unanticipated problems that day, but handling problems is what humans, singly or in societies, do best. Likewise, limitations on legal marijuana will bring their own problems not anticipated when they were drafted. The smarter course is to be prepared to answer a few problems when they arise and not to multiply the number and severity of problems by being too cautious.
So get out the best tool available to face the legislature. Use that eraser to make sure you Keep it Simple.